Forward Thinking

Never Too Late For Justice in Y.U. Abuse Case

By Paul Berger

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It’s one year since the Forward published its first story about abuse allegations at Yeshiva University’s High School for Boys in Manhattan.

Little did we know then that the recollections of four former students would prompt dozens of men to come forward with their own claims of abuse. Nor could we have foreseen that it would lead to a $380 million lawsuit against Y.U. and an internal investigation that found “multiple instances” in which Y.U. staff failed to respond to allegations of abuse.

One year ago, the allegations, particularly against Y.U. high school’s former principal, Rabbi George Finkelstein, were treated within the Modern Orthodox community as a rumor. Today, it is widely accepted that inappropriate behavior went on for decades at a range of Y.U. institutions and that those in charge failed in their duty to protect students.

These are troubling times for Y.U. The institution has a special place in the Modern Orthodox community. Its deep fiscal troubles, coupled with the negative publicity and financial threat posed by the lawsuit, have conspired to create an air of crisis.

At times like these people’s instinct is to rally around. And rally they have. Anecdotally, I have heard of people hectoring the victims, who are seen as either whiners or money-grubbers. The refrain among many is still that what happened to the victims was either not serious enough or happened too long ago to be dredged up now.

I wonder how those people would feel if they read about something similar happening in the Catholic Church. If, for example, the rabbis were substituted for priests and Y.U. was substituted for an Archdiocese, would they still be as unsympathetic?

I wonder also what they make of the decades-long stories of abuse cover-up that are finally coming to light overseas.

In my native England, a revered media personality Jimmy Savile, has been posthumously outed as a prolific pedophile, leaving a sense of betrayal that he was never held to account during his lifetime. Meanwhile, many other media personalities are now making regular court appearances over allegations of abuse that took place at or around the same time students were being abused at Y.U.

In Australia, a succession of men, principally associated with Chabad-Lubavitch, have been pursued relating to sex crimes perpetrated against boys in Sydney and Melbourne. The assaults took place during a similar timeframe as those at Y.U. In many of those cases, complaints were made and allegations swirled, but the people in charge failed to act appropriately. Now, decades later, the truth is finally spilling out.

In a recent statement, an Australian-based advocacy group for survivors of child sexual abuse, Tzedek perfectly encapsulated why such action, however delayed, is important:

“Tzedek believes that the only way the Jewish community can move forward is by publicly exposing what has transpired within our community over the past few decades — despite the shame and hurt that these revelations are causing.

“We must acknowledge and take responsibility for the past for the sake of justice, and for the sake of the victims and survivors. It will also ensure we prevent such situations from arising again.”

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter @pdberger


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